Archive for Thursday, March 18, 1999

COUNTY YOUTHS MAKE GRADE

March 18, 1999

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— Although Douglas County made improvements in 11 of 20 categories measuring child well-being, more juveniles were in court and fewer were pursuing higher education.

Births to single teen mothers in Douglas County are down and so is the childhood death rate. But the percentage of Douglas County children living in poverty remains constant and the number of children sent to criminal court jumped dramatically.

The seventh annual Kansas Kids Count book was unveiled Wednesday at a Statehouse press conference called by Kansas Action for Children, an advocacy group.

The county-by-county summary of how the state's children are faring show Douglas County has improved in 11 of 20 indicators of child well-being. Among the good signs:

  • In keeping with the statewide trend, more children here are fully immunized by age 2.
  • Infant mortality and childhood deaths were sharply down in 1998.
  • And there was slight improvement in the availability of day care.

"There's been steady improvement in the immunization rate statewide," said KAC director Gary Brunk.

He attributed the increase -- to 86 percent of all Kansas children -- to collaborative efforts on the part of state and local health agencies in promoting immunization.

"There was a real push and we're seeing it working," Brunk said. "With the state's new children's health insurance plan coming on line we predict we'll continue to see improvement in that indicator."

On the bad news side:

  • Douglas County juvenile court filings were up 37.8 percent.
  • The percentage of low birth-weight babies increased 41.9 percent. The actual number was 89.
  • Down by 16.1 percent was the percentage of county children pursuing post-secondary schooling of any sort.
  • There were 383 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect.

As a result of increased federal and state funding, a greater number of young children in poverty statewide were enrolled in Head Start programs than at any time in the past 10 years.

"That's another thing we're happy about," Brunk said.

In Douglas County, counter to the statewide trend, there was a slight drop in Head Start availability, according to the Kids Count book.

The number of kids criminal court was up across the state, not just in Douglas County.

"It's a measure of kids running into trouble with the law," Brunk said. "And again this year it got worse."

Also sharply up across Kansas is the number of confirmed cases of abuse and neglect.

"Confirmed reports are up pretty significantly," Brunk said. "The good part of that is that it results from Social and Rehabilitation Services putting more workers into investigations. The bad news, of course, is that we'd rather not have more kids abused and neglected. It's a mixed picture."

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is mshields@ljworld.com.

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